Queen City: King of Beer

Local craft breweries resurrect Cincinnati’s legendary brewing heritage

click to enlarge Taft's Ale House
Taft's Ale House

W

ith our strong German roots and insatiable thirst, Cincinnati has been a beer town since the start. Local brewer Davis Embree’s first commercial brewery on the riverfront in 1812 blazed the trail for beer-baron breweries like Christian Moerlein (1853), Hudepohl (1885) and Wiedemann’s (1870). 

By 1860, Ohio was the third-largest brewer in the nation, with as many as 38 breweries in the Tristate by 1872. In 1879, the New York Times published an article titled “How Cincinnati Beer is Drunk at Home: Some rather remarkable stories about the capacity of the Ohio stomach.” And by 1893, Cincinnati’s average per-capita beer consumption was 40 gallons for every man, woman and child — more than twice the national average.

In 1901, we even scared off famed hatchet-wielding, window-smashing temperance warrior Carrie Nation. She was so overwhelmed by our sheer number of saloons — 1,841, with more than 130 on Vine Street alone — she didn’t deface a single one because she would have “dropped for exhaustion” before she had gone a block.

While the advent of Prohibition might have all but decimated our sudsy, beer-stained crown, the city is still home to an awe-inspiring maze of beer cellars and tunnels and an ever-growing population of local brewers (including a brewing hub for Samuel Adams, one of the largest American-owned beer-makers). We’re slated to have more than 30 local craft and nanobreweries by the end of 2015, with no sign of slowing down. And to pay tribute, you can even go on guided tours underground to visit the deep basements and hillside tunnels of the historic breweries in what is now known as the Brewery District in Over-the-Rhine.

So whether you’re interested in checking out the breweries, sampling their eclectic beers or filling up your growler and heading for the hotel, these local breweries and boozy tours promise to make the future of Cincinnati brewing just as respected as its storied past.

DOWNTOWN/OVER-THE-RHINE

Christian Moerlein Malt House Taproom

The brewery’s name comes from Bavarian brew master Christian Moerlein, who came to America in 1841 and eventually settled in Over-the-Rhine. Cincinnati’s vast German immigrant population was drawn to his beers, with a taste reminiscent of home. Demand soon spread to Europe and South America, and Moerlein became the only local beer of its day to be internationally exported. The brewery shuttered during Prohibition, but the brand was resurrected in 1981 and was the first beer to certifiably pass the strict quality guidelines of the Reinheitsgebot Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, which says beer should contain only four ingredients: malted barley, hops, water and yeast.

Moerlein’s taproom is a wellspring of activity; it offers free tours of the modern production brewery as well as a glimpse into an underground historic malt house, dating from the pre-Prohibition Kauffman Brewery that once resided on the site. Also available are growler fills from its rotating taps — only $8 from 4-9 p.m. on Fridays — and German-inspired snacks from the Wienerwurst Mike Frankfurtary. The taproom is also home to Cincinnati’s only Minor League Fowling club — a mix of football, bowling and cornhole — and trivia. Moerlein also has their own Lager House downtown, with its own in-restaurant production brewery Go: 1621 Moore St., Over-the-Rhine; Internet: christianmoerlein.com; Taproom Hours: 4-10 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-midnight Friday; noon-midnight Saturday; noon-7 p.m. Sunday; Tours: Free; 7 p.m. Friday; 1 and 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

Rhinegeist

The name means “Ghost of the Rhine” and refers to the brewery’s location inside the skeleton of the 19th-century Christian Moerlein bottling plant in OTR’s Brewery District. Prohibition forced out the original Moerlein company, but in 2013, Rhinegeist stepped in.

Rhinegeist has a passion for hoppy West Coast-style brews, and the brewery pours 10 to 12 beers — predominantly pale ales like their popular Truth IPA and Pure Fury hoppy pale ale — in their taproom and event space. The 25,000-square-foot Rhinegeist includes the taproom/bar, TVs, a big picnic table area and games like cornhole, ping pong and foosball. CityBeat will be throwing a special charity Home Run Derby in the brewery in partnership with Rhinegeist on July 12. See page 15 for details. Go: 1910 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine; Internet: rhinegeist.com; Taproom Hours: 4-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-midnight Friday; noon-midnight Saturday; noon-7 p.m. Sunday; All-Star Tours: 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. Friday; hourly on the hour 1-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 1, 2:30, 4 and 5:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.

Taft’s Ale House

Located inside St. Paul’s German Evangelical Protestant Church — once the oldest protestant parish in Cincinnati — the building is now an ode to William Howard Taft, the pudgy and mustachioed 27th U.S. president, former chief justice of the Supreme Court and Cincinnati native. The multi-floor brewpub maintains some of the sanctuary’s protestant charm (like the bell tower) and serves a menu focused on tri-tip beef, complemented by creative brews, like Maverick Chocolate Brown Porter, made with local Maverick chocolate.

The alehouse is teaming up with Essential Productions for All-Star Weekend to put on The Summer Draft at Taft’s, which will feature craft beer, live local music and food. Festivities take place noon-11 p.m. July 10-12 in the outdoor area across from the building. Go: 1429 Race St., Over-the-Rhine; Internet: taftsalehouse.com; Taproom Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and Sunday; 11 a.m.-midnight Thursday-Saturday.

NORTHERN KENTUCKY

Braxton Brewing Co.

The “taproom of the future,” Braxton’s garage-style taproom is the first in the nation with gigabit internet, plus tech charging stations, a 20-tap Pegas growler fill and comfy leather couches. Starting at 5 p.m. July 14, they’re throwing an All-Star Party and Pint Night, screening the All-Star Game live on a projector in the taproom, with $10 pints of their 1957 — an English mild with flavors reminiscent of Cracker Jacks — in baseball-themed glassware. Buy a pint, keep the glass. Go: 27 W. Seventh St., Covington, Ky.; Internet: braxtonbrewing.com; Taproom Hours: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 8 a.m.-midnight Thursday; 8 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday; noon-1 a.m. Saturday; noon-8 p.m. Sunday.

Ei8ht Ball Brewing Company

Located inside the Party Source (the largest liquor outlet in the U.S.) in Newport, Ky., the kitschy punk Ei8ht Ball features a whopping 42 taps, only a handful of which serve house brews; the rest feature other locals, unique crafts and hard-to-find drafts. Go: 95 Riviera Drive, Newport, Ky.; Internet: ei8htballbrewing.com; Taproom Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday.

NEARBY

Bad Tom Brewing

Bad Tom Brewing is named after a serial killer whose famous last words before his hanging in 1895 were: “Bad women and bad whiskey have brought me where I am.” These words inspired Sean Smith, distant relative of Bad Tom and co-owner of the brewery, who vowed to make penance for his great-great uncle by producing good beer for all the bad whiskey Tom drank. Go: 4720 Eastern Ave., East End; Internet: badtomsmithbrewing.com; Taproom Hours: 5-10 p.m. Wednesday; 5-11 p.m. Thursday; 4-11 p.m. Friday; 1-11 p.m. Saturday.

Blank Slate Brewing Company

Since their founding in 2011, Blank Slate has been all about producing seasonal handcrafted and small-batch beers. The brewery is known for its creative use of food-based ingredients, like in their Shroominous brown ale, made with shiitake mushrooms; their Opera Cream Stout, a collaboration with The BonBonerie featuring the bakery’s opera cream-flavored coffee; and their Cincy 3-Way Porter, a collaboration with Colorado-based Oskar Blues that incorporates Cincinnati chili flavors. Go: 4233 Airport Road, Unit C, East End; Internet: blankslatebeer.com; Taproom Hours: 5-10 p.m. Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday; 1-11 p.m. Saturday.

Fifty West Brewing Company

Taking their name from U.S. Route 50, which runs right outside their door, this restaurant/taproom has a large rotating selection of house drafts, including Penny’s Pilsner, named after their orange VW bus; Are We There Yet Saison, with flavors of grass, sunshine, hay and bubblegum; and Fuzzy Feeling, a peach wheat ale. The menu is seasonal, with Sunday brunch and weekly specials, including BBQ Thursdays, with barbecue dishes, vinyl music and trivia in the beer garden. Go: 7668 Wooster Pike, Mariemont; Internet: fiftywestbrew.com; Taproom Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

Listermann Brewing Company

In 1991, Dan Listermann developed a line of home-brewing equipment that was used nationwide, which led him to create one of the largest home-brew supply stores in the Midwest as well as his craft microbrewery, Listermann Brewing Company. Their taproom has a growler station with a constantly rotating list of up to 10 different types of fresh-cracked beer, including year-round choices like their Nutcase Peanut Butter Porter and Leopold Belgian blonde. Listermann is also home to Triple Digit Brewing. Friday and Saturday, they’re hosting their annual German-themed Volksfest, a giant craft beer festival featuring more than 20 local breweries. See details on page 13. Go: 1621 Dana Ave., Evanston; Internet:  listermannbrewing.com, tripledigitbrewing.com; Taproom Hours: Noon-8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

MadTree Brewing

MadTree was the first canning craft brewery in the state of Ohio. The taproom currently rotates 11 different beers, one of the most popular being Lift, their Kölsch-style beer with a hint of orange. But their portfolio includes everything from the seasonal to special, like their limited-release Reds-themed Rounding Third red IPA, re-released just for the All-Star Game. Available in the taproom and wherever MadTree is sold. Go: 5164 Kennedy Ave., Oakley; Internet: madtreebrewing.com; Taproom Hours: 4-10 p.m. Tuesday; noon-10 p.m. Wednesday; noon-1 a.m. Thursday-Saturday; noon-10 p.m. Sunday; Tours: 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday.

Mt. Carmel Brewing Company

Cincinnati’s oldest craft microbrewery started out in a farmhouse cellar as a two-vessel system. Now, Mt. Carmel and the almost-100-year-old farmhouse have expanded into a 40-barrel brewhouse, brewing six-pack bottles, kegs, porch packs and growler-fills. These are all available directly from the Mt. Carmel Public House, which boasts eight taps plus offerings from their seasonal line. Go: 4362 Mount Carmel-Tobasco Road, Mt. Carmel; Internet: mtcarmelbrewingcompany.com; Taproom Hours: 4-10 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 3-11 p.m. Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday; Tours: 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Rivertown Brewing Company

Rivertown focuses on traditional brews, but also incorporates more wild varieties of beer such as Belgian and sour styles. Their taproom offers 12 taps in total, featuring their year-round line up, seasonals, some of the unique sour series and limited-release taproom exclusives. Go: 607 Shepherd Drive, Unit 6, Lockland; Internet: rivertownbrewery.com; Taproom Hours: 4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday; Tours: 5 p.m. Wednesday; 6 p.m. Friday; 3 p.m. Saturday; $6, includes pint.

Urban Artifact

A brewery, taproom and music venue (with almost-daily live music) located in a historic church. Beers are crafted with locally caught wild yeast and bacteria, resulting in sour, tart brews, like their flagship Harrow Gose. If sour isn’t your thing, add some sweet flavored-syrups from the bar or try local Skinny Piggy green tea kombucha on tap. Go: 1660 Blue Rock St., Northside; Internet: artifactbeer.com; Taproom Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Friday; noon-1:30 a.m. Saturday; noon-midnight Sunday. Tours: 1 and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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